Right-wing support for sortition

A paper has just been uploaded to Academia.edu entitled Instituting a Democratic Sortition in America. The author, Terry Hulsey (who hails from the Abbeville Institute, which lauds the culture of the Confederacy and the “Southern tradition”), offers a libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) critique of social democracy and is no fan of equality (as currently conceived):

A second large group of political scientists writing about sortition are those who, dismayed that over 95% of the elective oligarchy of legislators are white males – and about half of them lawyers – seek equality in the form of proportional representation for women, for minorities currently based on race, and for unspecified protean “disadvantaged” factions. Hugo Bonin, Ernest Callenbach, and Michael Phillips are typical of this group. All of them embrace “diversity” while being curiously blind to the fact that diversity is the opposite of equality. They seek equality for the various factions that are assembled not for their diversity, but for their adherence to a prevailing ideology. What were the unequally represented factions of a century ago? They were the factions of class: Worker, bourgeois, and landlord. Clearly the factions are assembled according to political considerations, and not according to measurable benefits for the society as a whole. For how will those who are half black and half Latino be represented? Would they not be doubly represented? How many legislators will represent the Frisian immigrants? And how many will represent the left-handed Frisians with a limp? All such schemes that embrace sortition from egalitarian motives fail because they are based on arbitrary groupings formed by the fashionable watchwords of the day.

Personally I’m encouraged that sortition is now appealing across the political spectrum, and would encourage posters and commentators to try to keep their partisan views to themselves in order to help enlarge the sortition community.

11 Responses

  1. Hi Keith

    I completely agree with your sentiment.

    The only way we humans will find our way through our current mess is by honouring all our fellow humans – at a global level.

    That starts by trying to listen to all of them, trying to hear them and trying to understand them so as to be able to have at least a ghost’s chance of engaging with them.

    It’s not at all easy to do and we can only ever hope to have it be an ongoing work in progress for each of us.

    Happy New Year.



  2. The hunt for some form of representativeness is a topic not limited to sortition. It is also a fervently discussed concept in market research when the practicality of random sample is problematic. Usually socio-demographics can be weighted in only for very few factors before the effort gets ridiculous or more prone to introduce error rather than remove bias. Long before the “left-handed Frisians with a limp”.

    While we may argue correctly that it is only the right to participate which should be equal, for sortition to work correctly, there is also no big harm in allowing stratified representation for the major factors, like gender, age, economic status, and where applicable, race, if it buys sortition the support of those overly concerned with the Zeitgeist of representativeness issues.

    What is more important – and I have not seen this element debated deeply in our community – is to handle directly conflicting interests in citizen juries or citizen parliaments. The Austrian experience in the “social partnership model” (consensus conferences between delegated – not yet allotted – representatives of consumers vs. producers, employees vs. employers, landlords vs. renters, …) may give us a hint though: in negotiations and deliberations both sides are represented equally by voice, and each side had to agree separately to the outcome or decision.


  3. Hubertus:

    >both sides are represented equally by voice

    that was the rule in the Athenian nomothetai

    >and each side had to agree separately to the outcome or decision

    That seems implausible when political decision making is involved. How would it work in the case of (e.g.) Brexit?


  4. I should state clearly that I hold sortition to be the only viable Western alternative to “liberal democracy.” I agree with John Adams’ appraisal: “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Proof of the statement is given by levelers like Étienne Chouard and those who want to use sortition to promote the racial, gender, and Jacobin political mix of their fantasies.

    The great irony is that in usage since Aristotle, “elective democracy” is a pleonasm that has come to mean its opposite. As Aristotle says in the Politics, book IV, section 9: “[T]he appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratical, and the election of them oligarchical.” Voting is the life blood of oligarchic power, not demotic power.

    Happily, this quirk of usage may be the sugar coating that will have the leveling democrats swallow the pill that poisons them. That is, by accepting sortition as the paradigm of democracy they in fact rid the world of the democratic disease.

    This disease begins with a single virus: Voting. What is voting but the effort to dispose of property not owned by the voter? This is why those who want to rig the voting apparatus to favor their fantasies – always disguised in today’s blazing beacon of virtue signaling, “equality” – are always aggrieved about the influence of the rich. Voting is championed as a means of resolving conflict, needing only the assumption that the whole should yield peacefully to the majority. But the gridlock of liberal democracies the world over should prove that voting factions exacerbate conflict, not alleviate it: The American Conservatives want a polity based on a Christian identity; the Democrats want a polity based on an absence of identity other than allegiance to an all-providing Leviathan state.

    Thus a consistent supporter of sortition must not only be the enemy of elective democracy, but also be a radical for property. Ownership resolves conflict: It is the owner of the property who decides how it is disposed, not the contending factions of voters who want it to buy textbooks to support Creationism on the one hand, or to buy transgender coloring books on the other. Voting, the principle of democracy, ever expands to inflame these irreconcilable factions to the point of violence – to the point of John Adams’s political suicide.


  5. Interesting that sortition is the preference of levellers and libertarians alike. I would hazard a guess that the former are attracted to the invisible hand of descriptive representation and the latter to the sanitizing effect of the blind break (the irony being that the “invisible hand” is normally associated with free-market economics). I flesh out these two approaches to sortition at https://www.academia.edu/8295259/The_Blind_Break_The_Invisible_Hand_and_the_Wisdom_of_Crowds_The_Political_Potential_of_Sortition


  6. Keith, your paper is insightful, and a good read in spite of being quite scholarly. It rightly focuses on the key function of sortition: As a tool to resolve political problems.

    For all those who wish to employ sortition to realize egalitarian desiderata, “arational” sortition, which is blind to these needs, must be tweaked in some way. Whatever the rubric used to effect these tweaks – “descriptive representation,” “stratification,” “weighted lottery” – it is always for an arbitrary standard of social justice according to the fantasy of the one insisting on the adjustment. (To cite an obvious and egregious example: “Ann Phillips’s choice of gender, ethnicity and sexual-orientation categories”.) Of course there will be a flutter of denial, that oh heavens no, we only aim to correct the “failings” of sortition – that it doesn’t approach the “strong version of the law of large numbers,” that it lacks “cognitive diversity,” that it’s weak as an “advocacy function,” etc.

    As you correctly point out, “Persons selected by lot are emphatically not the aleatorian equivalent of elected representatives”. All attempts to misuse sortition to realize social justice are part of the disease of elective democracy that always tends to violence not least because all its social justice claims are irreconcilable, not just in their objective proposals but most of all in their emotional attachment to some quasi-religious sense of “rightness,” “fairness,” etc.

    I think you give away too much in finding use for “invisible hand” sortition as a tool to realize “descriptive representation.” As I see it, sortition can’t be used in that way.

    Sortition must be used in conjunction with two other tools: A tool to obviate the problem of the initial pool, and the tool of property to dispose of private goods instead of voting to dispose of so-called “public” goods. As I detail in the paper you so kindly posted, first, James Madison’s principle of federalism solves the problem of the initial pool in that it is indifferent to the surely somewhat arbitrary ways that America’s 50 states will set qualifications for their representatives; second, expansion of the principle of private ownership progressively minimizes disputes over the allocation of so-called “public” goods, especially as allocated to satisfy social justice claims.


  7. Terry:

    It should be acknowledged that Dowlen, Stone and other advocates of the blind break are resolutely opposed to stratified sampling as they don’t view sortition as a tool for representation. Most of us in the invisible hand school are happy to rely on large samples, quasi-mandatory participation and short terms of service. It’s primarily deliberative and “discursive” democrats who are keen to actively privilege underrepresented groups, that’s why they are sniffy about sortition — it’s a bit to populist for their taste.

    >Sortition must be used in conjunction with two other tools: A tool to obviate the problem of the initial pool, and the tool of property to dispose of private goods instead of voting to dispose of so-called “public” goods.

    In my first book on sortition (The Party’s Over, 2004), I did endorse the principle of political competence testing (but have since been persuaded that the outliers are likely to cancel out) and also opine that

    It might be argued that candidates for Member of Parliament should have spent most of their life self-sufficiently. The reason for this criterion is that it is arguably wrong for those who are living off other people’s taxes to have a say in how high these taxes should be. (2004, p. 7)

    Unfortunately, since the gerrymandering of the UK benefits system under New Labour to include practically everybody, this might make the selection pool unacceptably small!


  8. One last emphasis, and I leave the thread.

    You say: “Persons selected by lot are emphatically not the aleatorian equivalent of elected representatives” – implying a further problem of representation left unaddressed by sortition.

    I say that after a blind sortition, there is no further problem of representation. Any attempt to entertain one is to indulge the errors of democracy. The sortive result is as near a sublunary perfection as we can possibly get. One step beyond it means a vain and ultimately violent attempt to evaluate metaphysical claims about social justice, financed by a fictitious “public” property.

    Of course we must consider how this sortive assembly is to do its work for the nation that brought it into being. Its success would come in proportion to its society becoming one of 100% private property, where no public goods exist, where no “representative of the people” exists with a moral license to steal from property owners.

    I describe how such an assembly might work in a similar context:

    What might be workable is that a [sortively assembled] gathering, possibly electronic or virtual, of property owners assemble with a laundry list of suggested common endeavors, with money tentatively pledged, primarily to indicate the endeavor’s worth to each participant. The common features of these many lists might be tabulated and presented to all those who have voluntarily joined the gathering. According to the advice of experts of each owner’s choosing, these many endeavors then might be assigned a certain percentage chance of success based on the amount of money tentatively pledged. It would then be up to the participating property owners to consider these odds of success and draw up contracts among one another to honor some of their pledges. Only with these personal contracts, and not through any parliamentary “vote” or bloviated appeal to a fictional “will of the American people,” would their property be committed. Such a gathering would have no resemblance to a modern “legislature”.

    The above paragraph I have presumptuously taken from my more detailed article here: https://www.lewrockwell.com/2016/12/terry-hulsey/capitalist-culture/.


  9. Terry,

    While I have some personally sympathy for the libertarian position, I’m anxious not to conflate this with the argument for sortition. Going back to the problem of the initial pool, it’s interesting how some people who should know better conflate issues of franchise with the mode of election (lot or ballot). Bernard Manin, for example, claims in his book on representative government that the Putney debates support the case for election, when in fact Rainsborough and Ireton were arguing about whether or not the franchise should be restricted to those with a permanent fixed interest in the kingdom. The forty shilling franchise rule would apply whatever the mode of election (lot or ballot). I pointed this out to Manin at a sortition workshop in Paris, but he dismissed it with a Gallic shrug.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Keith>> “How would it work in the case of (e.g.) Brexit?”
    The Brexit case is not a case which needs representation layering by interest. Examples for a relevant divide are: consumers vs. producers, employees vs. employers, landlords vs. renters.


  11. I had a look at the Abbeville Institute. It’s a pretty toxic little operation that one. Though that’s an aside, and not a disagreement with the original post.


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